Am I Just Too Old?

I don’t remember as a young woman if I ever thought of older woman as useless. As an older woman now, I feel like anyone under 50 thinks I’m useless.

I have always admired older women. Most are wiser and more outspoken than younger ones. I’ve always liked the deep conversations I could have with them, instead of the hollow ones about make-up or what I considered to be ridiculous parenting where you can never say “no” to a child.

I was always older than my years. I grew up the youngest of 7, with an alcoholic father who left home when I was about 5. There was a 20 year span of kids, almost exactly 20 years between my oldest sister and myself.

I didn’t see much of what my older siblings dealt with in their lives being the youngest. Four of them were out of the house by the time I was in grammar school. I was to find out later, and it would not be pretty.

I was the quiet one. I didn’t say much. A pretty girl (I didn’t think so at the time-but grammar school photos say otherwise), but a loner. My closest older sister and I were opposites. She was in the band and the drama club and I was shy and afraid of my own shadow. I had no self esteem; in my growing up days, no one ever said I love you or you’re special or you can be anything you want. My best friend was a dog. I found safety and solace in the perfect love of the canine. To this day, dogs remain a source of love and light in my life, including the one snoring loudly next to me at this very moment.

My mom was 40 years older than me and being born in 1919, she believed that women were made to serve men. Sadly, she served a few who treated her badly and ultimately left her. I remember her telling me one day that when I grew up I would get married and do what my husband wanted. She told me that sex was 99% of a marriage and that a wife should have sex with her husband whenever he wanted. Aside from a few other minor details, that was my sex talk.

I suppose that upbringing had something to do with me getting married at 19 to a alcoholic who abused me. Unlike my mother though, I had options. I had a job and could support myself and my three-year-old, although for a few years we ate lots of macaroni, first with cheese, then with butter, then sometimes with nothing. But, living free from fear was worth living poor for a few years. Mom didn’t have that option. She was uneducated—only made it to the 8th grade—and once the shoe factories in town closed, she was out of a job. She did not drive a car; she had no license and was afraid to drive. Actually, she was afraid of pretty much everything, trains, planes, elevators, escalators and driving. She said you have to have eyes all over the place to be able to drive. She told me she had tried driving once, but it didn’t go well. Not sure of all those details, but she never tried again.

I didn’t drive when I lived with her either. We had no car, we walked or took a taxi where we needed to go and traveling was never a thought. Vacations were not an option. Did people actually do that? I guess we were living on “the other side of the tracks.

Mom was a good cook. She had a knack for whipping up something out of nothing. She could take a can of surplus government ham, or that orange block in a cardboard box they called cheese, and add a little this and a little that, and whatever she whipped up was delicious. I learned how to do the same from her, which served me well in my own lean years.

I married young as mentioned earlier and was happy in the beginning. My husband would drink to excess once in a while and became quite threatening. Looking back, I suppose any normal woman would have hit him with a baseball bat and never looked back. Me, I guess I thought I got what I deserved. Who am I anyway? It could be worse. It’s not really that bad, is it? I didn’t want to cause a scene, a commotion, not air the dirty laundry in public. I took it for 5 years, until one night in a rage, a sober rage, he shouted and kicked in a stereo speaker as he was leaving for work, and made my three-year-old cry. That was the turning point for me. Nothing was more important than my daughter having a happy and safe life. I began making plans in my head as to how I was going to get out of this mess, alive. I understood that it is when an abused person leaves the abuser, that danger escalates.

I don’t remember how long after I was terrified in my own bed, in the middle of the night, by a drunken husband returning home from some alcohol-filled setting somewhere. I rarely slept well, my ears were always tuned in to the sound of his tires coming down the road. I always pretended to be asleep then he would leave me alone, but not this night. This night delivered what was an awful, degrading experience—the details too vulgar for this blog— after which he stumbled downstairs and got sick. I could hear the heaving sounds from the bathroom below my bedroom.

The next day, he was still sick, and I took the opportunity to gather up as much courage as I could muster and after a slow, terrifying approach, told him a wanted a divorce. From there, the danger did get worse. It took him several weeks to finally move out and then I could finally sleep at night. But it was now the days that caused angst. Like the day he called me at work while drunk, while he had my daughter with him. That was the day I had to tell my boss what was happening so I could leave to get her out of there. There was the day he found out he had to pay more in taxes because he filed single, which prompted the threatening phone call—so threatening that I mailed the voice message on the small cassette from my answering machine to my lawyer, telling her that if anything happened to me, she would know who to hold responsible.

This was the late eighties and domestic violence wasn’t treated as it is today. Had I contacted the authorities, they would have probably chalked it up to a domestic disturbance and that was it. In those days, threats meant nothing; you had to wait until physical harm was done in order to press charges.

I was sure he would cut my brake lines or burn down my house; I was sure he was certainly capable of such acts when drunk. That was the weird thing—sober, he was a nice man, funny, smart and gentle—drunk, he was evil. But I digress.

One gets to a point where you just say “Fuck it!”. You think, I’m not going to live in fear anymore. If he wants to kill me, so be it. He would call and want to come over to visit his daughter. I agreed a couple of times, but those visits would turn out to be his opportunity to voice his distain for how he has to live now, poor man. How it was my fault, because I wanted a divorce. Those visits were difficult for me, always waiting for him to explode and me feeling guilty for causing his grief. Yep, I said guilt.

One night, after one of these visits, I called him on the phone. I was scared and shaking but it was a call that changed me. I told him to be quiet and just listen. I told him that he was in the situation he created, not me. He threw his family away for alcohol, that it was his fault. Surprisingly, he remained quiet. When I hung up, I felt a new strength rise in me. I was through with the guilt. It had taken its toll of sleepless nights and weight loss long enough. I knew I still wasn’t completely free, but I was finally on my way.

The next few years were difficult, as money was really tight. I almost sold my house until my lovely neighbor, who adored my daughter and was always so sweet to use both, talked me out of it. I’m glad she did.

Raising a child on your own is really, really hard. You are on 24/7, no assistance. If someone throws up, you clean it. If the dog makes a mess, you clean it. If your child is sick in the middle of the night, you are driving in the dark and snow to get to a doctor, then going to work in a few hours. I once rode the elevator in the hospital emergency room for two hours to entertain my daughter after she had a bad dream, fell out of bed, and hit her side table opening up a small gash in her head and needed stitches. The ER was pretty busy evidently, and the elevator was something that a 5-year-old finds fun in the middle of the night. The laundry does not do itself, nor do the dishes. The dog can’t drive itself to the vet either. If you get sick, keep moving, no time for being sick. I will interject here though; my daughter was a joy. She was so sweet and lovable, just so great when she was little. She was able to entertain herself, which was a life saver for me. I remember one time I was really sick and had fallen asleep on the couch, which was a no-no. I woke up and panicked when I realized I had been asleep and when I sat up, my little one was sitting on the floor right next to me, in her little pjs, with a stack of craft stuff, crayons, stickers and the like, and just having a great time. She greeted me with a huge smile and I thanked her for being such a wonderful girl.

Having a child changes your entire life. We’ve all heard it, before we become parents, but we never really believe it, until we have a child and realize that it changes more than anyone could have ever accurately told us.

One thing I wanted more than anything was to make my baby proud. I wanted big things for her, but how could I ask big things of her if I didn’t ask them of myself? It was then I decided to go back to school. I was a high school graduate, but that was it. If I wanted to get ahead, I needed to go back. The short story is that I went to night school for 11 years straight, first to a university, then to art school. So, throw in trying to find a babysitter so I could go to school and doing homework among all the other responsibilities. But, I did it, while working a full time job, raising my girl, taking care of a house and all that entails and 4 dogs.

I changed jobs during those 11 years, I got a better-paying one and one more geared towards what I wanted to do, what I had gone to art school for—advertising. Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be Darren Stevens. Of course, I was a girl, that wasn’t going to happen for me.

I started small in my new job, but made enough of an impact that I was promoted to Advertising Manager of an $80MM company and, well, if you read my last blog, you already know what happened there.

When I was let go, it was at the height of the last recession. I could not find a job, anywhere, doing anything. There wasn’t much around and unemployment kept me afloat for a while, that is until the government cut off funds.

Just prior to getting laid off, about a year before, I bought a house in Florida. After the last time I got stuck half-in-half-out of the driveway, surrounded by 12 foot snowbanks on either side, spinning on ice and simultaneously being rained on, just after having gotten up two hours early in order to shovel the walkway and entire driveway, with ice spitting down my neck, so I could get to work, I told myself I could not stand the winter in New England one more year. Fortunately for me, I was able to buy a house during a time when houses were selling for about the price of a new truck. Not in pristine condition of course, but livable and clean.

When unemployment ran out, I could no longer afford to pay my mortgage, so I made the painful decision to rent my home in New England and move to the house in Florida. I thought it would be a short time before I could return as I would have a great job again and go home.

Eight years later, I’m still in Florida, enjoying the winters, but not the summers (or the hurricanes). I have had six different jobs, very low paying and all with no benefits. Employers here want experience and MBAs all for $12/hr. No, that is not an exaggeration, (in my opinion, it should be a crime).

Which brings me back to the beginning of this blog. I am an accomplished, educated woman that has been through some of the fires of life and lived to tell about them. I was employed from the time I was 17. I had four jobs from that time. One for a year, one for 7 years, 14 years and 11 years respectively.

Here in Florida, I think I am up to six jobs, all for much less time and much less pay. I have been through some of the worst bosses; lying, crude, crazy, demoralizing, dehumanizing, sexist, callous and rude, just to name a few. (I will have to write a blog for each of them because it’s just too impossible to believe.) I stuck through them though, tolerating all the crap because it was a job, until a good job was finally had. Still waiting on that . . .

I have submitted no less than two thousand job applications, most met with a very quick and dismissive rejection. For most, I meet 80-100% of the qualifications. I am well skilled in technology and not afraid to learn any new program, software, process, etc. I had a lot of skills when I got here and as you might imagine, I have accumulated many more having worked at so many different places. I feel like I could conquer the world if given the chance. So here is the question:

Am I simply too old?

despair

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players . . .”

It always seemed that I was in control of my life. I worked hard at full time jobs while raising a child by myself, owned and took care of a home, with an abundance of pets, volunteered here and there, traveled for work on occasion and went to school at nights over 11 years. I learned what I could along the way and always wanted to learn more so I could support my home, my daughter and our futures.

Ten years into my last corporate job, I was surprised one morning to find that my boss, the company President at the time, was fired and replaced with a new CEO. This was not a welcome surprise, but as much as I loved my boss and as a company girl, I would continue to work with whomever was in charge, as I really loved the company I worked for. I loved the people, the products, the customers, the factory and I loved what I did.

It was very quickly that I felt I would soon follow my former boss through the etched glass door that would close behind me one last time—and for good. We’ve all seen how it begins. Little by little, pieces of your work are quietly given to another person. No more invitations to sales meetings taking place in the conference room a mere 10 feet from your office, or the company barbecue to which every-other-person was invited. Then you are basically shut out of every decision relative to your work. When the new guy brings in a “friend” to help him with a few things, the same friend who you have to hand over a plethora of your files, photos and data so she can get a feel for what the company does, you realize what’s happening. You confirm you are not imagining things when finished work from “the friend” is presented to you in front of your colleagues as the new plan. Punch gut.

Your colleagues—the same ones you worked hard with for more than a decade—the ones you did extra projects for and usually at the last minute, traveled with, laughed and shared inside jokes with, the ones who confided in you, the ones who you grieved with during hard times, yes, those colleagues, start to distance themselves in order to save themselves. You are wearing the big neon red, flashing, bullseye of shame and they now want no part of you.

You are brought in to an office to be told that you are, after 11 performance-issue-free years now, not doing your job. You are suddenly incompetent and unreliable and, “You must own it”, as the HR lady says to you, as she bobs her head up and down. This same HR lady who only the year before fought tooth and nail to get you a long-awaited and well-deserved raise. But, we’ll give you 10 weeks severance—at that point, the programming is complete—you have been humiliated to the point where you just go, there is nothing, no one and no reason left for you to stay.

I could have easily accepted that this new boss would have preferred to work with “his friend” instead of me and as much as that would have still hurt, diminishing my contributions and using flimsy lies to trash my reputation was unforgivable.

Even 8 years later as I write these words, the pain begins to rise through my body and wells in my eyes. I suppose it was just business, but for me it was so much more.

So here the stage is set and not by choice, and from here, I must play the role I’ve been given. The role, it seems, is that of a periodically unemployed woman, whose career is essentially unrecoverable.